With a Rod of Iron
In the year 1973, Rousas John Rushdoony wrote a book entitled The Institutes of Biblical Law. This book was intended as an introduction to the Christian Reconstruction Movement. Gary North, a disciple of Rushdoony, and author of the book Backward Christian Soldiers? defines Christian Reconstruction as follows: It is “A recently articulated philosophy which argues that it is the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ. It proclaims ‘the crown rights of King Jesus.’ The means by which this task might be accomplished is . . . biblical law. This is the tool of dominion. We have been assigned a dominion covenant—a God-given assignment to men to conquer in His name (Gen. 1:28; 9:1–7).”1
Gary North added this subtitle to his book: An Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction. The book is advertised with the following blurb on the back cover: “Satan may be alive on planet earth, but he’s not well. He’s in the biggest trouble he’s been in since Calvary. If Christians adopt a vision of victory and a program of Christian reconstruction, we will see the beginning of a new era on earth: the kingdom of God manifested in every area of life. When Christ returns, Christians will be occupying, not hiding in the shadows. . . . This book shows where to begin.”2 The goal set forth in his book is clear: he wants nothing less than Christian dominion in the political, economic, and social spheres; he wants nothing less than a visible victory on earth before Christ returns. In fact, it is only when Christians have established this “golden age” on earth that Christ will then return.
Rushdoony, North, and those who have taken up their mantle would do well to consider Revelation 12:5. The preceding verses have been pointing toward, even pressing forward, to this great verse. For here in Revelation 12:5, we have before us, at last, the birth of the woman’s Child.
In verses 1–2, we saw the great sign in heaven, the sign of the woman—that woman being clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a garland of twelve stars. As glorious as the sign of that woman is, it nevertheless points us beyond the woman to her Child. Note verse 2: “Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain to give birth.” Thus we read verses 1–2 with great expectancy, not unlike the expectancy of a mother great with child. Verses 1–2 point us to the birth of the Child.
In verses 3–4, we saw another sign in heaven, the sign of the fiery red dragon—that dragon having seven heads and ten horns, and seven diadems on his heads. As horrific as the sign of that dragon is, it nevertheless points us beyond the dragon to the dragon’s intent. Note verse 4: “His tail drew a third of the stars of heaven and threw them to the earth. And the dragon stood before the woman who was ready to give birth, to devour her Child as soon as it was born.” Thus we read verses 3–4 with great urgency, wondering whether the child will be devoured at His birth. Verses 3–4 point us to the birth of the Child.
Now at last, in verse 5, we have before us the birth of the Child—that Child whom the woman expected—that Child whom the dragon sought to devour. “She bore a male Child, who was to rule all nations with a rod of iron. And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.”
“She bore a male Child.” At first glance, it seems that what we have here is a reference to Jesus’ birth of the virgin Mary. After all, we read: “she bore a male Child.” The woman must be Mary, and the reference must be to the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem. Revelation 12:5 would seem to be John’s apocalyptic record of the incarnation.
Upon further study, however, we begin to see that such an interpretation cannot be correct. The woman of Revelation 12 is not Mary, it is the church. The church is pictured here as the expectant people of God—those saints of the Old Testament who longed for the birth of the seed of the woman, as well as those saints of the New Testament who, with us, long for the return of Jesus Christ. While Mary is certainly included in this picture of the woman in Revelation, she is not the woman of Revelation 12. The woman of Revelation 12 is the church. Revelation 12:5, therefore, cannot be a reference to the birth of Jesus Christ by the virgin Mary; it cannot be a reference to the incarnation.
But if Revelation 12:5 is not a reference to the incarnation, then what is it referring to? To answer that question we must note that this male Child “was to rule all nations with a rod of iron.” The quotation is taken from Psalm 2:7–9: “I will declare the decree: the Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You the nations for Your inheritance, and the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.” The birth of the male Child in Revelation 12:5 is the fulfillment of these verses from Psalm 2. It is important to note that while Psalm 2 is quoted several times in the New Testament, it is never applied in the New Testament to the birth of Jesus Christ by the virgin Mary.
On the contrary, Psalm 2 is consistently applied in the New Testament to the resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God. Consider Acts 13:26ff., where the apostle Paul is preaching in Antioch: “Men and brethren, sons of the family of Abraham, and those among you who fear God, to you the word of this salvation has been sent. For those who dwell in Jerusalem, and their rulers, because they did not know Him, nor even the voices of the Prophets which are read every Sabbath, have fulfilled them in condemning Him. And though they found no cause for death in Him, they asked Pilate that He should be put to death. Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead. He was seen for many days by those who came up with Him from Galilee to Jerusalem, who are His witnesses to the people. And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.’” Acts 13:33 applies Psalm 2, not to the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but to the empty tomb. Acts 13:33 applies Psalm 2 not to the incarnation, but to the resurrection!
Similarly in Hebrews 1, we find this quotation of Psalm 2, “God who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they. For to which of the angels did He ever say, ‘You are My Son, today I have begotten You.’” Hebrews 1:5 applies Psalm 2, not to the birth of Jesus Christ in Bethlehem, but to the ascension. Hebrews 1:5 applies Psalm 2 not to the incarnation, but to the ascension and session of Jesus Christ.
Revelation 12:5 is consistent with the rest of the New Testament in its understanding of Psalm 2. Thus what we have before us in Revelation 12:5 is not the incarnation of Jesus Christ, but the resurrection of Jesus Christ, together with all that entails, including the ascension into heaven and the session at the right hand of God.
But why is Jesus’ resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God pictured to us here in terms of a “birth”? Certainly John is directing our attention to the very purpose for which Christ was born, namely, to rule the nations. Christ’s rule begins to come into its fullness in connection with His resurrection, ascension, and session. You might recall that it was not until He had been raised up from the dead and was about to enter into heaven that He said to His disciples: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.” Christ begins His reign with His resurrection, ascension, and session at the right hand of God. Here is the beginning of the fulfillment of Psalm 2.
Though Psalm 2 has begun to be fulfilled, it will not find its complete fulfillment until Christ comes again. Revelation 19:11ff. makes that clear as it quotes from Psalm 2 once more: “Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And he who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses. Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.” Clearly, here the context is that of the second coming of Jesus Christ; it is then that He shall rule the nations with a rod of iron. It is then that Psalm 2 shall be completely fulfilled.
Though Psalm 2 will not be completely fulfilled until Christ comes again, Revelation 2:26–27 makes clear that with the resurrection, ascension, and session of Jesus Christ at the right hand of God, Psalm 2 is even now in the process of being fulfilled: “And he who overcomes, and keeps My works until the end, to him I will give power over the nations—‘He shall rule them with a rod of iron; they shall be dashed to pieces like the potter’s vessels’—as also I have received from My Father.” Though Christ’s reign over the nations with a rod of iron will not be completely fulfilled until He comes again, already now He is on the throne, already now He is reigning, already now He rules all nations with a rod of iron. Christ Jesus is on the throne. Christ Jesus rules over all the nations. Christ Jesus rules with a rod of iron.
But that leaves us with a question: if Jesus Christ is on the throne, if He is indeed presently ruling all nations with a rod of iron, then why don’t we see it? Why don’t we see Him dashing the nations to pieces like a potter’s vessel? Where is His rod of iron? To answer that question consider the last statement of Revelation 12:5, “And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.” Is there anything there that strikes you? Do you see what John sees? You probably envision a mighty, risen Christ—powerful, majestic, all-glorious—ascending into heaven to take His place at the right hand of God. That is not what John sees. John sees a Child, a meek and humble Child. “And her Child was caught up to God and His throne.”
Here the imagery of Revelation 12:5 is simply profound! The wisdom of God is being unveiled to you here! John sees a Child caught up to God and His throne! John sees a Child raised from the dead! John sees a Child ascending into heaven! John sees a Child sitting at the right hand of God! You expect to see a King—mighty in strength, in power, in majesty, and in glory—instead you see a Child—a meek and humble Child!
The imagery is similar to that which we saw in Revelation 5. There, John wept because no one was found worthy to open the scroll. And then one of the twenty four elders said to John, do not weep, for the Lion of the Tribe of Judah has prevailed to open the scroll and to loose its seven seals. And when John looked, expecting to see the Lion of the Tribe of Judah—a mighty, powerful, majestic, and glorious figure—he saw a Lamb as though it had been slain. Expecting to see a mighty Lion, John saw a meek Lamb That was the imagery in Revelation 5. Now, expecting to see an exalted King, John sees a humble Child. That is the imagery in Revelation 12.
The point is this: Jesus Christ is indeed on the throne; He rules all nations. But He rules all nations, presently at least, in meekness and humility. He reigns as a Child. In fact, the rod of iron with which He rules is nothing less than His meekness and humility! Was it not in the meekness and humility of the cross that Jesus was exalted in John’s Gospel? Jesus Himself said, “And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all peoples to Myself!” It is at the cross that Jesus Christ is glorified! It is at the cross—as He hangs naked and undone, dying for sinners—that He accomplishes, completes, finishes, and secures the redemption of every last elect child of God—there is glory in the cross! In His humility there is exaltation! In His apparent weakness there is strength! In his apparent defeat there is victory! In His cross there is glory!
And it is the message of that cross that conquers sinners, and will continue to conquer sinners until Christ comes again! The message of the cross is truly a rod of iron that dashes us to pieces like a potter’s vessel! The cross strips us of our pride and humbles us. The cross destroys our self-confidence and breaks us. The cross empties us of ourselves and kills us. The cross does all of this in order to bring us life. This is the power of Christ’s present reign—the power of the gospel in conquering sinners! This is how His kingdom advances—the gospel is preached, and sinners, dead in trespasses and sins, are made alive!
I might add that we find in the picture of the Child, the pattern for the church’s life presently. As the hymn so appropriately puts it: “not with sword’s loud clashing, or roll of stirring drums, with deeds of love and mercy, the heavenly kingdom comes.” That is not sentimental fluff, that is what the Word of God teaches! I refer you here to 2 Corinthians 10, where the apostle Paul describes the spiritual warfare in which we are engaged with these words: “For though we walk in the flesh we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:3–5). And what are our mighty weapons? Paul defines them in verse 1 of the chapter, where he says, “Now I, Paul, myself am pleading with you by the meekness and gentleness of Christ . . . ”
The kingdom of God advances with the proclamation of the gospel. When Constantine wielded the sword in the name of Christ and His cross, he was engaged in the utter antithesis of what is set before us here in Revelation 12:5. When the Crusaders wielded the sword in the name of Christ, they were engaged in the utter antithesis of what is set before us here in Revelation 12:5. When in the Civil War, both the north and the south invoked the name of Christ, believing that they were battling in His name, and that with their victory, the kingdom of God would come on earth, they were engaged in the utter antithesis of what is set before us here in Revelation 12:5.
Contrary to the belief of the Christian Reconstructionists, the kingdom of heaven does not come by Christians exercising dominion over the political, economic, and social spheres of this world—that’s not the role of the Christian, and it is certainly not the role of the church. The role of the church is to be the church, and that means proclaiming the gospel, announcing what God has done in Jesus Christ for the salvation of sinners, and summoning men and women to repentance and faith in Him. The role of the Christian is not to lord it over the world, but to serve the world, and that in conformity to Christ, the only Lord.
As we eagerly long for the return of Jesus Christ, let us keep our eyes upon our King, who rules presently in the meekness and humility of a Child, and who conquers the nations with His rod of iron, the gospel.
Endnotes 1. Backward Christian Soldiers? Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. 1984. p. 267.
2. Ibid., back cover.
Rev. Brian Vos is the pastor of the Trinity United Reformed Church in Caledonia, Michigan.